by Dawn Embers
Essay about an engineer/scientist originally written for chemistry lab.
| War, destruction, suffering, chaos, debates, and president Bush, Jr. Where is superman when we need him? Unfortunately for us, our superman no longer walks the plane of mortals that we call earth. I’m not talking about the well-known comic character, Superman, but of a real life human who graced our world with a blaze of wonder. This amazing being was none other than the scientist Nikola Tesla. Tesla was an inventor who, even now, gets little credit for the astounding feats that he accomplished. Was Nikola Tesla insane, as many people thought he was? Or was he actually a genius with intellect that could rival that of Einstein? Tesla was both, a sort of crazy superman. He was a genius that had a large affect on the world, as we know it today, but he was in many ways crazy. It all began a long time ago, in the 1800’s.
Nikola Tesla could trace his lineage all the way to a segment of the so-called educated aristocracy of the Serbia community. His father, Milutin Tesla, was a political activist, poet, and later a priest. His mother, Djouka Budisavljevic, was the eldest of eight and had taken on great responsibilities early on in her life. For several years, the Tesla’s lived in Senj, the birthplace of their first son, Nikola’s older brother Dane. Then came the two older sisters, Angelina and Milka, who were also born in Senj. In 1855, Milutin, his then pregnant wife, and their three children moved over the Velebrit ridge and past the Lika valley to Smiljan. In 1856, Nikola was born. His younger sister, Marcia, was born three years later.
Smiljan was a grand place for the children to grow up in and Nikola appeared to have led a rather luxurious childhood, servants included. He spent his childhood annoying the servants, playing with the animals on the farm, and inventing. Animals would always have a special place in Nikola’s heart. He had several run-ins with animals, such as a wolf, the family cow, and a few giant ravens. Unfortunately, his brother, Dane, died in 1863 from being thrown off of the family horse.
Shortly after this tragedy, Milutin was promoted and the family moved a few miles out of Gospic. It was here that Nikola began his formal education. Throughout his years at the lower levels, Nikola was fascinated with electricity. He spent many years experimenting and coming up with ideas that he would later succeed in inventing. Through hard work, Nikola condensed the four years of what is now considered to be High School into three and decided to study engineering instead of entering the ministry.
The Tesla’s chose the Polytechnic School located in Gratz, Austria. Nikola, however, was first required to spend three years in the army for a major war was breaking out against the Turks. Milutin told his son to move out into the hills to avoid the draft and Nikola did just that. But contact with the war was unavoidable and those change occurrences had a large impact on him.
Taking the advice of Ferenc Puskas, Tesla left for Paris in 1882 for the chance to meet with Edison and his group from America. He was supposed to be getting paid to work for Edison Continental. Before work, Tesla would rise early to swim laps, and in the evenings he would play billiards and discuss inventions with his coworkers. In his spare time Nikola worked on his own ideas. At the end of the year he submitted a plan for improving the company’s dynamos and was allowed to put it into place. Once Tesla had his first AC motor figured out, he presented it to the mayor of the town, but no one wanted to invest. He was then convinced to go to America to help redesign the Edison machines.
Before Tesla left, he spent some of his spare time with a scientist who was studying organisms that were found in the drinking water. Tesla thus acquired a germ phobia that caused him to scour plates before eating off of them, only drink purified water, and be very picky in his choice of restaurants. In the spring of 1884 Tesla packed and got on the boat for America.
In 1899, Tesla was outgrowing his laboratory located in New York. He wanted more space and a lot more privacy to carryout certain experiments. A friend suggested Colorado Springs and John Jacob Astor, as well as the dry goods firm of Simpson and Crawford, was willing to invest. Tesla arrived in Colorado Springs on May 17th. Tesla was soon contemplating the huge undertakings that lay ahead of him. Around the building of his new laboratory Tesla put up signs warning others to keep out which got the attention of the press but he had no patience for them. He had been planning on using large concentrations of energy and was rightfully being cautious. It was in this laboratory that the largest Tesla coil was built. Tesla did several experiments in his Colorado laboratory but some of the most dramatic ones were done just before it was closed.
“Fancy yourself seated in a large, well-lighted room, with mountains of curious-looking machinery on all sides. A tall, thin young man walks up to you, and by merely snapping his fingers creates instantaneously a ball of leaping red flame, and holds it calmly in his hands. As you gaze you are surprised to see it does not burn his fingers. He lets it fall upon his clothing, on his hair, into your lap, and, finally, puts the ball of flame into a wooden box. You are amazed to see that nowhere does the flame leave the slightest trace, and you rub your eyes to make sure you are not asleep,”
as remembered by Chauncey Mcgovern. Shortly after September, Tesla prepared for the most dramatic experiment of his career. For some time Tesla had been working on a way to produce lightning-like discharges. He intended to produce very high voltages of energy. He believed that he could duplicate celestial lightning. The drama was in the risk of using such a voltage that could literally kill in one second. After a brief bit of glory his experiment caused a blackout thus showing the end of his Colorado laboratory. Nonetheless, Tesla had for a very short amount of time, stood with lightning in his hand.
Tesla’s experiments kept him occupied throughout the years. While he was busy with the conserving of energy and steam power to do the work without the waste, the world was preparing for the greatest form of waste. No one felt the dark energy emanating from the war that was gathering over in Europe more than Tesla did. He predicted that the war would be a horrendous upheaval. He also predicted the fall of Austria, the influence of military training and that the war would end due to exhaustion. As usual, Tesla simplified things using mathematical equations considering the war as a manifestation of energy including the acceleration and retardation of mass forces. He believed that,
“War cannot be avoided until the physical cause for its recurrence is removed and this, in the last analysis, is the vast extent of the planet on which we live. Only through annihilation of distance in every respect, as the conveyance of intelligence, transport of passengers and supplies and transmission of energy will conditions be brought about some day, insuring permanency of friendly relations. What we now want is closer contact and better understanding between individuals and communities all over the earth, and the elimination of egoism and pride which is always prone to plunge the world into primeval barbarism and strife… Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment.”
Tesla began to ponder whether the future of the world would be held in the beauty of art or the usefulness of science.
Disappointment seemed to follow Tesla to the year of 1915 when a long deserved award fell short. Through the London Times, news arrived that Edison and Tesla were to share the Noble Prize in physics. Neither of the scientists had received any official notice of the honor that was supposedly being laid upon them. The events of the next several weeks were confusing for the two as they remained in the spotlight of the public, but it was even more confusing for the world of science. What actually happened is a mystery for researchers. On November 14th, 1915, it was announced that the award would be divided between Professor William Henry Bragg and his son, W.L. Bragg. Why the change occurred no one really knows.
Tesla became a solitary wanderer walking the New York streets feeding the pigeons. He sought out those that were wounded and took them home with him to take care of those that were helpless.
In the latter years, Tesla received a lot of attention for a discovery that was inaccurately called a death ray. Tesla was opposed to war and would not invent anything to help war makers, however, he would devise ways to prevent war. He saw this possibility in his new invention, which had the characteristics of a death ray. Tesla saw it as a possible way of providing protection for any country that could use it as a defense. Tesla developed a plan, the beam-transmission plan, which was reported as part of the death ray. The limitation of the beam was due to the curvature of the earth leading to the energy affecting up to a 200-mile radius. Tesla ever said only bits and pieces to the world about this particular experiment.
Naturally, Tesla did not believe in psychic phenomena but he had several experiences that can be labeled as such. For example, Tesla adamantly believed that the mind could communicate by transmitting messages but not in actual telepathy. Tesla refused to even discuss anything close to psychic experiences with anyone except for a few family members. Yet, he possibly saved three of his friend’s lives because of a premonition. Tesla had a strange experience close to his death. Early one morning he had a messenger deliver an envelope to a Mr. Samuel Clemens. The messenger returned only to report that the address did not exist. This annoyed Tesla who then told the messenger that Clemens was an author known to the public as Mark Twain, and that he should be at the address on the envelope. Research showed the messenger that the street name had been changed several years ago and Mark Twain had been dead for 25 years. When he told Tesla, however, things did not go over smoothly. The transaction ended with a very annoyed Tesla and a messenger who was told to either deliver the envelope or to keep what was in it.
At first glance there seems to be a chapter missing from the story of Tesla’s life. This chapter when it appears is one of the strangest for a person to read. It is the chapter of romance. This is not the usual man meets and falls in love with a woman, or another man for that matter. Instead, Tesla fell in love with a female pigeon. He had been feeding pigeons for numerous years until he met a pure white one with gray on the tips of its wings. “I loved that pigeon…. Yes, I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman, and she loved me”(316). For him, no one was more important in his life at that time than his love. The last night Tesla saw his pigeon, she had flown into his room. Instinctively, he knew that there was something important that she wanted to relay to him. Tesla later stated that a pure beam of light came from her eyes. Sadly, she died and Tesla didn’t live for much longer. A part of him seemed to die with the death of the pigeon, his love.
Tesla’s health had been fading greatly. He was bothered occasionally by his heart and had frequent fainting spells. Tesla was struck by pneumonia as well. He, however, seemed convinced that he could ward off death by sheer willpower for as long as he wanted to. The Christmas lights still shown when Tesla turned his calendar to the year of 1943. On January 5th he allowed the maid to clean up his room but told her that no one was to disturb him. After a few days, on January 8th, the maid became worried and opened his door in spite of the do not disturb sign. Tesla was already gone; he had died quietly and alone during the night.
Shortly after Tesla’s death many of his papers were impounded by the Office of Alien Property. The reasons claimed were that Tesla had ties to communist countries and the United States was in a world war at the time against the communists. They have not, however, released his papers since then. Within the Slavic countries Tesla was considered to be a hero. This was imminent when Hitler was invading; many of the men thought that Tesla would return to Belgrade and protect them from the Nazis with his death shield. Unfortunately for them, Tesla did not return.
Tesla’s impact on society was astounding to say the least. Through his inventions, Tesla spun the yarn of time to make life what it could be, and is, today. The inventions include: “a telephone repeater, rotating magnetic field principle, polyphase alternating-current system, induction motor, alternating-current power transmission, Tesla coil transformer, wireless communication, radio, fluorescent lights, and more than 700 other patents.”
One of his inventions, the radio, created shockwaves in a fight over who had the rights to the patent. Tesla discovered through using the Tesla coil that he could send and receive signals of a particular frequency. By 1895, Tesla was ready to attempt to transmit signals for up to 50 miles. Unfortunately, his lab was consumed in a fire that year, destroying his work. During the time a young Italian experimenter, Guglielmo Marconi, was building a device for transmitting messages. Tesla filed his patent applications for a basic radio in 1897 and they were granted in early 1900. Marconi filed his first application on November 10, 1900 and was denied. Marconi tried applying with different versions a couple of times but was always rejected. But no patent is ever completely safe. The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company began thriving in 1900. On December 12, 1901, Marconi sent and received signals from across the Atlantic Ocean. The United State Patent Office reversed its decision in 1904 and gave Marconi the patent for the radio. Tesla was angry at first but his anger wasn’t on a large scale until Marconi won the Nobel Prize for the invention in 1911. He sued the Marconi Company but was unable to finance the litigation. It wasn’t until after Tesla’s death, in 1943, that the United State Supreme Court ruled to uphold Tesla’s radio patent.
O’Neill, John J. Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla. Ives Washburn, Inc. New York, N.Y. 1944.
Seifer, Marc J. Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla. Carol Publishing Group, New Jersey. 1996.
Hunt, Inez, and Wanetta W. Draper. Lighting In His Hand: The Life Story of Nikola Tesla. Sage Books, Denver. 1964.
Kosanovic, Bogdan R. Nikola Tesla: The Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, and scientist. http://www.neuronet.pitt.edu/~bogdan/tesla/ December 29, 2000.
PBS. Tesla: Life and Legacy http://www.pbs.org/tesla/ll/ll_whoradio.html Public Broadcasting Service(PBS). 1995-2003